Chicago’s South Side Takes A Field Trip

While September 2 typically marks the first day of school for unhappy kids across the country, in the South Side of Chicago today, classrooms are going to be empty. In an act of protest against the Illinois public school system, hundreds of inner city students are boycotting classes and instead will be bused to the affluent North Shore suburbs, where they will attempt to enroll in the New Trier and Sunset Ridge schools, some of the wealthiest public schools in the country. According to Illinois state law, students must be district residents in order to enroll in a public school, and those that aren’t must pay tuition, a policy that effectively bars low-income students from transferring out of failing local schools. With the help of several South Side churches, 125 buses have been commissioned for the event, orange t-shirts reading “Save Our Schools Now” have been printed, and up to 2,000 students are expected to participated in the protest, which has been making headlines in Chicago since the announcement last week.

The protest was organized by Democratic Senator and Baptist minister James Meeks, a controversial figure in Chicago politics who initially proposed the idea when the state’s political leaders refused to adopt his 3-year, $120 million plan to revamp the city’s lowest-achieving schools. With the backing of Al Sharpton and local community leaders, Meeks has rallied an enormous amount of support around his campaign, stating that he’s willing to keep students out of school up until next Monday, and moreover, that he plans on staging sit-ins in the lobbies of corporate buildings in downtown Chicago early next week.

While Meeks has been attracting some criticism for his boycott — Chicago Mayor Richard Daley called him “selfish” for attempting to take kids out of school —  as Eric Zorn noted in his Chicago Tribune blog, the protest’s real strength is its capacity to focus national attention on a local issue through invoking civil rights imagery and rhetoric:

Pictures of thousands of largely poor, minority children being rejected by three well-appointed, mostly white schools—New Trier Township High School’s East Campus in Winnetka and West Campus in Northfield, and Sunset Ridge School in Northfield—will inevitably (if unfairly) recall Little Rock, Ark., in 1957 and Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 1963—two dramatic schoolhouse-door moments in the Civil Rights movement.

As I write this, the protest is now underway, and has apparently been met with a show of support from New Trier students and community groups, some of which came out to join the protesters.

In the words of Rev. Albert Tyson, one of the boycott’s organizers, “We want our students to see what it’s like, and see what they are missing.”

Further reading:

All you ever wanted to know about Chicago public school funding (but were afraid to ask):

A fact sheet distributed by New Trier Township High School District 203 explained the complicated funding formula in Illinois, which relies heavily on property taxes to support schools. According to the fact sheet, the New Trier school district property wealth per student is $1.125 million compared to $150,000 in Chicago.

Schools with lower property wealth receive a higher proportion of funding from state sources. As a result, according to the New Trier district, its schools get 96 percent of its revenue from local sources compared to 48 percent in Chicago. Conversely, according to New Trier, its district gets only 3 percent of its revenue from the state, while Chicago gets 35 percent from the state.

And for further viewing:,0,2159690.story


~ by Jessica on September 2, 2008.

One Response to “Chicago’s South Side Takes A Field Trip”

  1. Awesome! Woo, first comment!

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